UCSD Bookstore Employees Allege Management Misconduct and Sexual Harassment Cover-up; Threatened Strike


Jacob Sutherland and Lara Sanli

Article written by Features Editor Lara Sanli and News Editor Jacob Sutherland. All interviews were conducted by Sanli, Sutherland, and UCSD Guardian Editor-in-Chief Daisy Scott.

Several UC San Diego bookstore student employees and staff members have come forward with allegations of management misconduct and a sexual harassment cover-up, which led to a student staff letter being released internally threatening a strike in September 2019. These allegations come after the Triton broke a story in October 2019 about the UCSD Bookstore Operations Manager resigning without penalty after violating the University of California Sexual Misconduct Policy.

Former Bookstore Operations Manager Alan Labotski had a complaint filed against him in May 2017 by a bookstore employee after it had been brought to the Office for the Prevention of Harrassment and Discrimination’s attention that a student employee had allegedly been sexually harassed by Labotski.

According to several student employees and staff members who spoke to the UCSD Guardian anonymously for fear of management retaliation, Thomas Bonetati, then the bookstore director and currently the director of Auxiliary Business Services in the Resource Management & Planning department, covered up the complaint against Labotski by allowing him to retire quietly without any notice to bookstore staff members or student employees. These same employees also claimed that Bonetati and Labotski were close friends.

Bonetati and the bookstore management conducted an internal investigation on the complaint, but most staff members and student employees were unaware as to what was taking place. Labotski was placed on leave during this time period in Fall Quarter 2017, but the nature of his absence was not relayed to staff members or student employees. 

According to one bookstore staff member, “There was concern and attempts to contact [Alan Labotski] because he had some health issues, and there was concern that that health issue or issues got worse. And the speculation went on for, I don’t know, perhaps six, eight weeks.”

Following these staff speculations on Labotski’s absence, Bonetati announced in a January 2018 bookstore staff meeting that Labotski would be officially retiring March 1 but would be on vacation up until that point. There was no mention as to why he was retiring.

Labotski allegedly retired before he could face official termination for his sexual misconduct. 

In addition to Labotski’s departure, Bonetati, who reports to Vice Chancellor Gary C. Matthews, left his position as bookstore director in November 2018.

“I don’t think I would be the only one to say that Tom’s management style is [to] pretty much put you in your place and … not have any regards for your opinion,” the staff member said. “There were more than one high fives, if you will, when Tom left.”

However, Bonetati soon returned to work at the bookstore late Spring Quarter 2019 in an elevated position as the director of Auxiliary Business Services in the Resource Management & Planning department. 

“When he came back it was like, here we go again,” the staff member said. “The morale of the bookstore is extremely low.”

Bonetati is currently in the six-month probationary period for being hired on to his current position. During this time period, his performance and behavior will be assessed, which places Matthews, who oversees Resource Management & Planning, in a position to encourage further investigation on Bonetati’s behavior. 

Several bookstore employees have told the Guardian about Bonetati’s management style, alleging that it comes across as inappropriate for a workplace environment. However, the concerns toward upper management were not limited to Bonetati. 

Several student employees and staff members expressed how various managers would engage in conversations with employees that were both unprofessional and inappropriate in the workplace environment, such as complaining about other managers and staff members.

“A lot of the problems really do stem from a lack of communication,” said senior Garrett Crotty, a bookstore student employee. “Not just lack of communication between student [employees] and their own bosses but students and all full-time staff.”

The majority of the student staff collaborated to write two letters protesting the daily abuse of managerial power. The first letter, which was put on the desk of the bookstore’s Business Office Receptionist Gale Hill on Sept. 1, 2019, did not receive formal acknowledgement from management. 

This lack of overall change motivated students to write a second letter in October 2019 in hopes of improving the negative work environment and student relationships with management. 

An internal management meeting was held on Oct. 5, 2019 to address the second letter. Several solutions were discussed, with Interim Bookstore Director Sandie Sears and Bonetati deciding to move forward with a student employee forum to voice grievances.

Student employees were informed via an Oct. 15 email from Sears that she and Bonetati were working to address the content of the letter, and were planning on hosting a forum with Resource Management & Planning that would include leadership outside the bookstore.

In a follow-up email on Oct. 25, Sears informed student employees that private sessions with Student Employee Manager Mary Lewis and Employee Relations Specialist Supervisor Nooria Faizi would be held on Oct. 30 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m, or by appointment. Sears also mentioned that a forum was in the works, but no such date was ever disclosed.

In a Nov. 5 bookstore staff meeting, a staff member brought up the forum, to which Bonetati claimed that invitations were emailed to the student employees, but none had shown up. This surprised many of the staff members, and when several questioned him further on the matter, Bonetati became irritable and dismissive.

Sears emailed student employees on Nov. 20 reiterating that appointments could be made with Lewis and Faizi and that a forum would be held sometime during Winter 2020. There was no mention of a forum having previously taken place.

The Guardian obtained a copy of the seven-page second letter, which was ghostwritten by a student who has since left bookstore employment. It contains individual excerpts of student accounts of managerial mistreatment, discrimination, and misconduct. Some of the issues are due to the current construction in the bookstore and the fact that it has had to condense to one floor in order to make room for a Target store set to open in 2020.

[pdf-embedder url=”https://ucsdguardian.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/KIC-Document-0001.pdf” title=”KIC Document 0001″]

The letter also asserts that the bookstore has no internal human resources position with the power to intervene on behalf of staff members and student employees with concerns. This means that management is directly responsible for handling employee grievances. However, several bookstore employees agreed that there is a collective fear of both retaliation and dismissiveness if any concerns or complaints are brought to upper bookstore management.

The lack of a HR position with the power to intervene has driven students to take action themselves by threatening formal protest if their demands are not met. They listed five options of retaliation: a student strike, collaboration with local media outlets, spreading the second letter to all college provosts and resident assistants, mass printing and posting of the letter on all bookstore entrances, and using social media to dissuade student interaction with the bookstore. 

“It’s your choice,” the letter’s conclusion read. “Either improve your current modicums of respect WITH A FULL APOLOGY or the students will exercise freedom of speech rights and any media outlets to the fullest extent.”

Bonetati, Sears, and Matthews did not respond to requests for comment from the Guardian.

As of the time of writing this article, no bookstore student employee or staff member strike has been reported to be in development. Likewise, Bonentati is currently in the final weeks of his probationary period for the position of the director of Auxiliary Business Services in Resource Management & Planning department. No date has been given for the upcoming student employee forum.

Artwork by Anthony Tran.